My fantasy of earning a PhD—a life of the mind, narrow but deep, which led to a prestigious and institutionally secure position —was a powerful one. It kept me going as, red-eyed, sporadically bearded and fortified with takeout Chinese, I banged away at my dissertation. (I should note that some of my cohort took a more balanced approach, getting daily exercise and taking mid-day walks. One even planned her own wedding as she wrote, but I went Full Bukowski: I am pretty sure my neighbors thought I was a junkie.) My exertions paid off though, I finished my thesis in a year because I was anxious to defend and enter the academic job market. I didn’t realize it then but my timing was astonishingly bad. As I was holed up in my Brooklyn apartment surrounded by piles of dog-eared notes, the economy was falling apart. Tenure-track jobs, which were rare enough before, became even scarcer. In response I delayed my defense once, twice, three times, while I searched in vain for a tenure-track job or post-doc. In the meantime I did all the “right” things to no avail: I presented my research at international conferences, co-convened seminars, and published my work. Even after I finally defended I couldn’t find work teaching outside of the adjunct positions I was filling all over the city. Everything I thought my degree was leading up to was falling into place except for the central piece, a full-time job. I’d been using my savings to make up for the financial shortfall and I was running out of money. It was time to change tactics.
A colleague, similarly frustrated by market (despite being a published author with two Master’s degrees in addition to her doctorate) was the first person I knew to jump ship. She accepted a position as Education Director of a major spiritual institution and didn’t look back. I was impressed. I’d had a long career in the nonprofit sector before I returned to school so I pulled out my old resume and set about fitting my more recent academic experience into that context.
I first learned about The Art of Brooklyn in 2011 through friends and I offered my services as a consulting producer for their first film festival. I’d been Festival Coordinator at the DUMBO Dance Festival the previous summer, in my first post-academic nonprofit job, so I understood the particular challenges of producing an international art festival in Brooklyn. We worked well together and the first Art of Brooklyn Film Festival was a big success, with several sold-out and near capacity screenings. All told, we drew two thousand patrons, despite having to reschedule our final two nights because of last summer’s hurricane. Before the week was over we agreed to continue to work together. I came aboard as Executive Director and immediately began to strategize about how we fit in to the cultural landscape of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is the first big art scene of the 21st century but most art and culture events cluster around a few North Brooklyn neighborhoods. We decided that our focus would be on bridging the gaps between over- and under-served neighborhoods and populations. Consequently The Art of Brooklyn curates a conversation between the new, Brooklyn-based art community, immigrants, transplants, and those born and raised in the borough through our programs: A live performance series, gallery exhibitions, and our tent pole event, The Art of Brooklyn Film Festival. The AoBFF is the first to showcase emerging filmmakers who are Brooklyn-born, Brooklyn-based and/or Brooklyn- centric. As a result, from August 4-12th The 2012 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival will feature forty-five premieres from all over the world, all of which have a meaningful link to the borough. For example this year’s selections include a Turkish film inspired by Brooklyn’s diversity, a documentary created by an Italian filmmaker about a Hassidic Brooklyn rapper and a Claymation short by a young animator who was born and raised in Brooklyn…New South Wales, Australia.
The response to our concept has been exciting. We held an international competition for the poster of The 2012 AoBFF, which was won by Portuguese illustrator Tiago Moura. His edgy design was then selected by a production designer to adorn the bedroom wall of Dakota Fanning’s character in the upcoming film Very Good Girls, no doubt to lend her some Brooklyn indie cred. The director Elliot Lester (Blitz, Love is the Drug), heard about the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival from a producer in LA, and approached us asking to be a judge for this year’s festival. He told us, “Brooklyn is long overdue for a major film festival. [You] are smart and well-connected, and I’m excited about this festival — it could be Brooklyn’s Tribeca.” Joining him on the judging panel will be actor and frequent Brooklyn resident Eric Mabius (Ugly Betty, Resident Evil), actress/filmmaker and curator at Michigan’s prestigious Waterfront Film Festival Christine Elise McCarthy (ER, 90210), director/ producer Digger T. Mesch (Cinescape magazine’s Power 100) and TV personality/ film critic Bobby Rivers (VH1, Whoopi Goldberg Show).
Although the journey to this point was frustrating and scary I am having a blast and so have no complaints. I also think stories like mine are getting more common as PhD’s are forced to be more entrepreneurial in response to a shrinking academic job market. As a guest-blogger on CORP 101 in the upcoming week I will cover everything from the ridiculous to the sublime as we count down the final days before the opening of The 2012 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival on August 4th.